2012 NFL Mock Draft: Carolina Panthers Select...

Representing the Carolina Panthers, citadechief with the ninth pick in Arrowhead Pride's 2012 NFL mock draft...

2011 saw a dramatic turnaround for the Carolina Panthers. They went from being a "Bye Week" to being a "Tough Out". Of course, there is no denying why this turnaround occurred. The Panthers found their franchise QB in Cam Newton. He gave the team a much needed spark that has them headed on the right path.

However, the Panther defense didn't see that same spark. Instead, it suffered setbacks as both Thomas Davis and Jon Beason ended up on IR.There was little to no talent up the middle to stop the run, and the lack of a steady pass rush was enough to render their talented CBs useless. Frankly, the Panthers defense hasn't been the same since it lost Julius Peppers. They desperately need someone opposite of Charles Johnson to help pressure the opposing QB, so:

With the 9th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select...

Melvin Ingram - DE - South Carolina

Ingram is a dynamic pass rusher, who fits in perfectly for the Panthers. Ron Rivera is a 3-4 guy, but doesn't have the personnel in Carolina to pull it off right now. Ingram provides a key part of the turnaround from that. It is widely believed that he is more than capable of being a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE. This means he pays off immediately and long-term should Rivera desire to make the switch to a 3-4. Ingram also lined up at DT a lot for the Gamecocks, but he may be too small for that role in the NFL. However, versatility is the name of his game. Ingram has developed an arsenal of moves that he used to get by blockers at the college level. Obviously those moves will need to be further developed at the NFL level, but this is a player who isn't afraid to put in the work to make that happen.

His production at South Carolina wasn't much until this past season. But when given the full time starting role, Ingram exceeded expectations. In 2011, Ingram recorded 48 tackles (15 for loss), 10 sacks, a fumble recovery, 2 INTs, and 3 TDs (1 from a 68 yard punt fake) on his way to All-American (AFCA) and All-SEC honors (AP), as well as the Gamecocks first ever 11 win season. Over the course of his career, Ingram racked up 21.5 sacks (4th all time at South Carolina) and 30.5 tackles for loss (5th all time at South Carolina).

While the addition of Ingram should boost the sack and other pass rush numbers for the Panthers, it should also lighten the pressure on Chris Gamble and "Oh Captain, My Captain" Munnerlyn. Both players were worn down because opposing QBs had plenty of time to throw the ball. A strong pass rush takes this away from opposing offenses. With the improved pass rush and the talent already in the secondary, this increases the Panthers' ability to force their opponents to become 1-dimensional on offense. It also lessens the pressure on Thomas Davis and Jon Beason which reduces their chances of being injured again, and at the same time let's them focus on stopping the run.

There are some concerns for Ingram. The most common concern is his lack of prototypical size. To compensate for this, Ingram worked hard to develop an extensive set of pass rushing skills and techniques, as well as learning how to attack the passer from multiple positions. His ability to line up in multiple locations and exploit desired matchups should alleviate the concerns about his size. The other major concern is that he didn't see much starting time at South Carolina until his senior season. Truth be told, no one expected him to see any starting time in 2011 either. That speaks to the type of work ethic Ingram has. Knowing that he was likely to be the odd man out, he put in the extra time to make sure he was not only a starter, but a central figure of the Gamecocks defense.

An additional bonus of drafting Ingram is in the intangibles he provides. He is one of those "lead by example" players that doesn't ask anything of anyone that he isn't willing to do first. This includes playing through a broken hand during the 2010 season. That kind of dedication isn't taught. You either have it or you don't. His work ethic is also exemplary. He started his career at South Carolina as a pass-rush specialist, and wasn't expected to be much more than a 3rd down player. However, he worked hard to show he belonged on the field in a larger role. Coming into 2011, it was widely accepted that #1 HS recruit, Jadeveon Clowney and Senior Devin Taylor were going to be the starting DEs and Ingram would be relegated to backup and situational duty. Instead, Ingram blew the coaching staff away during the offseason with his incredible work ethic and intensity. The end result was the exact opposite of what was expected. Ingram ended up getting the starting job with Clowney seeing backup and situational duty. Ingram went on to dominate this past season, easily being the Gamecocks' defensive MVP.

The Panthers have an uphill battle in the tough NFC South (including the almost impossible task of playing in legendary Arrowhead Stadium), but they are quickly putting the pieces together to develop a quality franchise that could be a serious contender for the next 4 or 5 years. Don't be surprised when Melvin Ingram is a key component of that and one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.

Sources: CBS Sports, ESPN Stats, ESPN Insider

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Previously (with approval results)...

1. Indianapolis Colts - Baylor QB Robert Griffin III (42%)

2. Washington Redskins - Stanford QB Andrew Luck (72%)

3. Minnesota Vikings - USC OT Matt Kalil (89%)

4. Cleveland Browns - Alabama RB Trent Richardson (70%)

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - LSU CB Morris Claiborne (84%)

6. St. Louis Rams - Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon (91%)

7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Stanford G David DeCastro

8. Miami Dolphins - Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill

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